The Montreal Canadiens entered one of their tougher stretches of the season on a dominant high. Eight days later, they emerged with mixed results.
While Columbus has issues of their own, Montreal's pair of losses illuminated a troubling pattern: the morbid play of their third pair. Since the beginning of December, Alexei Emelin has produced a single game in which the Habs have taken more shots than their opponent while he was on the ice. Tom Gilbert, who had been holding his own in a difficult deployment, seems to be succumbing to the challenge of carrying Emelin, as he too has seen his play take an unmitigated freefall.
For some time, the play of the Habs skaters has felt like something of an afterthought, as their record has lived and died with the play of Carey Price. Against a team that cannot match-up with Montreal through the lineup, the Habs should be able to assert themselves without leaning on their goaltender.
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Tale of the Tape
|49.3||Fenwick % (Within 1)||45.3|
|1.26||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.67|
Know Your Enemy
The Canadiens and Blue Jackets may be at opposite ends of the standings, but the two teams have a big point in common.
The Ohio franchise is over-reliant on goaltending, as they rank just below the Habs as one of the NHL's least dangerous offenses. But while Montreal is able to spread their scoring over a capable top-nine, the Jackets' eggs are in only two baskets. The Habs have nine players at or over fifteen points on the season, while Columbus can boast only three. That places a significant burden on Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno, who are producing almost half of their team's total point output.
Beyond the top line, however, rounded out by Scott Hartnell, things get complicated for the Blue Jackets. Notwithstanding injuries to useful forwards like Boone Jenner and Artem Anisimov, Columbus has a number of forwards who have demonstrated an ability to play a strong defensive game.The lack of depth makes them easier to defend, and the top trio should see a steady dose of Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban.
Until they can gain some traction in the offensive zone, though, the Blue Jackets may be forced to endure the type of ups-and-downs that has characterized their season to-date. Starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky may not be exposed on a nightly basis in the way that Carey Price is, but when his team can't produce at the other end of the ice, his task becomes similarly challenging.
Last Time Out
The Canadiens won two of three games against the Blue Jackets last season, and it was their third clash of the season that marked the Habs' loss.
Blame for the loss was laid at the feet of Jarred Tinordi, whose unfortunate giveaway in the game's waning minute turned into a partial break for Johansen, who converted for the game winner. Not only did the RDS crowd jump on the young Canadiens defender at the tail end of what had been an encouraging stretch, but the rearguard also found himself benched for his team's next two games.
As the shot attempt chart from that night shows, the Blue Jackets had no trouble getting in close on Carey Price, earning two goals and a host of other high quality chances from the door step. A defenceman like Tinordi could make a big difference, using his strength to clear the crease while playing the type of balanced game that may stop the puck from ending up there in the first place.
Sadly, the Habs will not have the option of subbing in a player like Tinordi to help out their flagging third pair. Teams like the Montreal Canadiens beat teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets because their top-to-bottom depth exceeds that of their opponent. Tonight, Montreal's most mundane will have to prove they're up to the challenge.